Exploring the ways that men try to dominate women continually makes for fertile storytelling. Decades of gaslighting and generational violence warp the sensibilities of how humans should treat each other. Yet, in some cases, men will not accept their partner as an equal. Instead, they believe their domination should be inherent in the relationship. Director Signe Baumane returns to the Florida Film Festival with a story focused on this idea. My Love Affair with Marriage allows us to see these ideologies are not isolated to a single place. Instead, a woman’s journey to find someone who will treat her as an equal pushes her down an unexpected path in life.
Zelma (Dagmara Dominczyk) deserves to find love. As a young girl, she begins fantasizing about the idea, even as others call her a pervert and downplay her womanhood. Yet over time, she finds three men who help her explore her life. An artist name Jonas (Stephen Lang) points her to a new passion. Sergei (Cameron Monaghan) provides her with a sense of stability but also danger. Finally, Bo (Matthew Modine) treats her as an equal but hides part of himself from her. Over her life, Zelma grows to understand what it means to be a woman, no matter where you are.
Baumane beautifully builds the world around Zelma, both visually and through the narrative. Visually, My Love Affair with Marriage blends stop-motion, hand-drawn, and 3D animation. Layers on top of layers become reminiscent of cel animation, showcasing multiple mediums blending together. The hand-drawn animation takes a stylized approach, resembling films like Reuben Brandt, Collector, and Jon Scieszka’s children’s books. There’s a darkness and ambiguity to each image, which only intensifies as the emotional gauge shifts between scenes. It’s impressionist animation at its finest.
The narrative continually moves forward and makes unique choices to help us understand where Zelma is in the world. Sometimes, her accent is incredibly pronounced (especially in the West). Others, she speaks without one, emphasizing the homogenous life she’s living with those around her. The design of Zelma the character also shifts, and as characters degrade or put her down, her interpretation of self changes. It’s a beautiful touch that helps My Love Affair with Marriage convey its messages.
My Love Affair with Marriage could only achieve its goals through animation as an art form. Interstitials explain the biology of a given scene, voiced by a creature that looks like a neuron (Michele Pawk). These explanations help the audience understand that our decisions are not always based on our free will. Complex, biological impulses guide us through much of our life. Our want for love becomes a compulsion we cannot resist. Through animation, Baumane shifts between the narrative and the explainer. It’s a daring move to upset the form, but it mostly works. Unfortunately, the occasion scene drags, which stops My Love Affair from entering the highest echelons of animated work.
Still, My Love Affair with Marriage is daring and unique. Baumane pushes the characters to fully embrace their impulsivity and makes her animators do the same. This results in stunning visuals that are difficult to shake after the film ends. This unique vision of life and love should be adored for its daring swings.